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Inside “In the Heights” now at the Pantages

July 2, 2010

Sabrina Sloan, Isabel Santiago, Arielle Jacobs & Genny Lis Padilla

In the Heights

 

uses rap and hip-hop to tell an urban story of Washington Heights, New York, a neighborhood on the edge, leaving its young adults with dance and song as coping mechanisms.

The show’s creative visionary and Broadway star, Lin Manuel-Miranda, surprised the cast when he announced he’d join them in their Los Angeles run. Isabel Santiago, who plays a salon owner, Daniella, says, “Lin was really excited about Los Angeles in general. If you play New York, you want to play L.A.”

Her castmate, Sabrina Sloan, who plays salon employee Vanessa, believes the intention is to turn the musical into a movie, which may be another reason why Lin is performing at the Pantages. “I’m interested in seeing how they do it,” she says, “because there are some musicals that have been huge successes like Chicago and there are others like, uh, Rent,” which she says under her breath, “that didn’t quite work. There will always be fans of the musical who won’t like the subsequent movie.”

Isabel Santiago

Santiago

 

adds, “Film is so delicate. They just have to do it well, especially the songs because they’re not a dream sequence like in Chicago where it’s totally believable, this is everyday people walking down the street singing, so it will be interesting to see how it’s translated into film.”

 The show won the 2008 Tony for Best Musical. What makes it so successful? Santiago believes it’s “a combination of the way the story is told through rap and hip hop, dialogue and scenes. And it flows really well. Plus the dance and the talent of the actors,” though she apologizes if she comes across as bragging about herself. “I think it’s just the truth of the story that hits everybody in the heart.”

Santiago adds, “Every movement of dance tells part of the story. It’s unique and tells a universal story. Even though the show has hip hop and might surprise some of the older generation of audience, it’s palpable because the story and characters are so easy to relate to. It makes me want to go and write my own musical.”

It brought up the question, “Does this work parallel West Side Story in any way?” Santiago says, “There are more parallels to Fiddler on the Roof. It’s very much that generational story. There’s the abuela who’s actually the figurative grandmother in the story for the neighborhood. She’s an immigrant from Cuba. The next generation is running the parents’ shops and the generation after that is going off to college. There’s the forbidden love story of Mina and Benny who’s African American – she’s Puerto Rican and her dad is against them being together. There’s that kind of West Side Story aspect, but the story itself is more like Fiddler.”

Dancing was each actress’s greatest challenge. For Santaigo, “the choreography was really tough. I’m a singer and actress and I love dancing and I give props to anyone who can do it, but that was a tough rehearsal process for me. The choreographer knew I wasn’t a dancer and he was as kind as he could possibly be during that hectic schedule. It’s fine now because I’ve had time to let it sink into my body. Real dancers learn something in seconds – I need a couple days!”

Sabrina Sloan

It wasn’t much easier for Sloan. “And I have a big, heavy partnering dance scene. Dancing by yourself is one thing, but dancing with someone else and having to switch off with someone else was something I’d never done before. It took me days. Of the triple threat, dancing is my weakest link. I had a good solid two weeks to get that number down, thankfully.”

 

Sloan had intended to fulfill a year-long touring contract but unexpectedly got pregnant. She’ll rejoin her husband after the July 4 show and expects the birth in October. Santiago, meanwhile, plans to finish out the L.A. run and remain with the company for its next stop: Tokyo, Japan, for three weeks, a stop that Sloan is sad to miss.

In the Heights through July 25, 2010 at the Pantages Theatre. Ticket information here.

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